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  1. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

    • I enjoyed this article but I have a concern that the questions are not truly measuring “economic enlightenment”, but rather how readily individuals repeat the platitudes of their respective parties. A person who has little economic education could potentially appear to be economically enlightened simply by repeating the standard catch phrases of the Republican or Libertarian parties, without actually understanding the economic logic which makes their position correct. Is this person really enlightened?

      I agree with Mr. Potts that it is necessary to have some questions that would challenge the libertarian and conservative positions. Such questions might show that respondents answer correctly by and large when the answer conforms with their party’s standard phrasing.

      I may come to be a libertarian or conservative not through the process having thought through the results of various policies, but rather because I was born into a family that professed libertarian or conservative values. I may not know why rent control leads to housing shortages, I just know government intervention is bad (because that’s what I heard at the dinner table), and so I’m against rent control. This could explain the lack of correlation between enlightenment and education.

    • First comment 10 Jun 2010 by N. Joseph Potts
    • Last comment 16 Nov 2015 by wargames83
  2. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists

    • McCloskey faults the project of the Enlightenment philosophers, Smith included, for neglecting two of the seven virtues of Thomas Aquinas: hope and faith (though she does claim these were smuggled in through the back door of their philosophies). I must admit to being puzzled about what use a secular moral philosopher should have for either virtue, both of which being explicitly based in religion.

      McCloskey describes hope and faith as two sides of the same coin, the forward-looking imagination and backward-looking imagination, respectively. Without hope, she tells us, there can be no ‘human project.’ Without faith, no ‘human identity.’ They do not, she asserts with no further explanation, ‘have to be theological.’ She implies that without hope as an independent virtue, suicide would be our only recourse, and without faith as an independent virtue, we would forget our identities. She claims that this makes the two virtues intelligible in secular terms, but as I can make no sense of any of it, I have to disagree.

      The ability to carry on projects that will bear fruit in the future does require a kind of simple “hope” that one’s plans will succeed. However, surely if this is all that hope consists of, skepticism must be a coequal virtue, otherwise the wasting of resources on impossible projects would be laudable and proper. And neither hope nor skepticism is an independent virtue, as hope could be described as prudence plus courage in imagination, and skepticism, prudence plus temperance in the same. Indeed, to an atheist, praying for eternal life perfectly fits the idea of “wasting resources on an impossible project.” I can understand hope as an independent virtue only in a specific theological context. The ancient pagan virtue ethicists also distrusted hope as a virtue, pointing out that hope adopted as a stable habit of mind would lead to continual bitter disappointment.

      With regard to faith, to twist it into a secular virtue when its commonplace meaning is the belief in a religion is to do violence to language and reason. McCloskey attempts to describe a physicist’s assumption of the orderliness of the universe as piety and faith (a faith slipped in stealthily whenever an Enlightenment philosopher refers to Nature), but it is nothing of the sort. She uses this poor argument against Rosalind Hursthouse’s reasonable contention that religious piety is “based on a complete illusion” from an atheist’s point of view and then rolls on to blame our uptight refusal to recognize the existence of hope and faith as independent virtues in Western philosophy for the rise of Bolshevism, Hitler, and “all our woe.” Despite violating Godwin’s law here, she declares her position defying two centuries of philosophy evidently correct, and “warmly recommends” her own flavor of non-secular hope and faith.

      McCloskey points out another way God allegedly sneaks in the back door in Smithian moral philosophy: through the idea of an impartial spectator. She claims: “The impartial spectator…is not merely [a behavioral observation] about how people develop ethically. [It is a recommendation.]” This assertion stands in baffling contradiction to much of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which painstakingly describes a positive process of an individual judging the propriety of actions he observes or proposes to undertake with recourse to sympathizing with an imagined impartial spectator. TMS is not a long harangue from “an urbane resident of Edinburgh…hopeful for a rather better society, loving sweetly the imagined result” exhorting its readers to follow a system of virtues. It is principally a description of a positive system of moral philosophy: how we in fact judge the propriety of actions, not how we ought to. Though Smith often lets his values and opinions leak through to color the text, to an extent unfashionable among modern philosophers but charming in this case, the meat of the book is about how humans act, not how Smith believes they should.

    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 14 Nov 2012 by Todd Peckarsky
  3. Mankiw vs. DeLong and Krugman on the CEA’s Real GDP Forecasts in Early 2009: What Might a Time Series Econometrician Have Said?

    • And which econometrician will regard this blatant misrepresentation of the facts as proof that the economics profession has been hijacked by corporate speaking engagement fees and simplistic right wingers who have a criticism for everything, but reverence for only the practice of doing less (so the ‘free market’ can work its magic, don’t you see?) I really hope the state of economics improves to the point where people like Cushman and Mankiw will be held to account for their lies, but remembering Nial Ferguson’s hack journalism in Newsweek reminds me that their are lots more inane fact manipulating liars to go through first. Oh yeah, and Phil Gramm has something to say about the economy in the WSJ. I assume its not that we are still in a “mental recession” as this “nation of whiners” was in 2008? Jeez, the fact these people even get writing gigs anymore makes me want to steal things from 7 eleven.

    • First comment 23 Sep 2012 by Brooks
    • Last comment 24 Sep 2012 by Alex Nash
  4. Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

    • This article suffers from several flaws. First, the authors fail to make a compelling case for religion as a mechanism to avoid “silent risks.” The only case noted is debt, and a strict prohibition on debt might well prevent debt-related catastrophic failures, but given the centrality of credit and debt to the world economic system, this seems like a disproportionate “cure.” Furthermore, the authors give us no mechanism, other than perhaps the most stubborn conservatism, how religion per se actually would prevent silent risk.

      The most glaring problem, though, is that the authors fail to offer a good definition of religion. They point out that religion shares features of every social institution, i.e. intergenerational propagation of norms, but fail to adequately distinguish religious from secular institutions beyond mentioning the label “God.” But what do they actually mean by “God”? Their preamble is unhelpful: what precisely do they mean by “true religion” and “genuine spirituality”? The authors are silent.

      Finally, the authors insistence on the irrelevance of the epistemic basis of religion, indeed even of its truth, seems deeply problematic. Should we not try to understand how and why systems of ideas (i.e. ideologies) work and don’t work? Should we not make our best effort, albeit imperfectly, to base our worldview on truth? Is the understanding that some ideologies rest on obviously untrue beliefs about the world not at least raising an important problem? The authors’ handwaving away of epistemic analysis seems also in contrast to Taleb’s other work, which offers a sharp and perspicacious critique of the epistemic problems in science, and especially economics and political economy.

      I have a more thorough analysis on my blog: Religion as risk management

    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Tom Garnett
    • Last comment 15 Aug 2015 by G. Ashton
  5. Advanced Placement Economics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    • This is a great article as the others have said. This study needs far greater exposure to provide greater diversity in economic thinking. There is far more to economics than Keynesianism and the mechanics. Thank you.

    • First comment 25 Jan 2011 by Paul Johnson
    • Last comment 16 Mar 2011 by David B
  6. The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010

    • Gordon and Nilsson have attempted a massive review of Harvard University Press books and admit to not carefully reading all 494 of them. I was pleased to see my book, Total Cure: The Antidote to the Healthcare Crisis (2008) made it past their initial screen-out. Their assessment, however, raises some concerns about what must be quick, and in at least one instance superficial, reviews. They categorize my book as “Left” and describe it as “Calls for universal compulsory health coverage that would cover two-thirds of costs. The rest would be dealt with by a voluntary program that would allow free choice of physicians.” That assessment sounds like “Medicare for all with voluntary supplemental coverage.” That is far from what I proposed.

      Even a quick read would indicate that the focus of the book is not on universal compulsory coverage, but rather on changing the medical care delivery system, with a far greater reliance on effective market mechanisms than we have now. While I do believe that universal coverage for major acute and chronic illnesses is critical to avoid gaming and selection, coverage for many things people on the Left feel should be covered is really an equity rather than an efficiency issue. There are better ways to achieve those equity goals.

      I realize that the strict libertarian would argue against any mandated coverage. Until the US citizenry is willing to let people who fail to provide for themselves die on the hospital’s steps, a coverage mandate for major illness is warranted. I raise significant concerns about any major role for government beyond certain minimal things it can do reasonably well. These concerns are problematic for those favoring a single payer solution. I think such an approach would guarantee coverage, but otherwise it would be a disaster.

      My concerns with public solutions arise, however, not from an anti-communitarian perspective, but rather from a recognition that our political system is too responsive to special interests. The appropriate use of market forces (which is quite different from letting existing players exercise their market power) is necessary to overcome that political power.

      Gordon and Nilsson did note that physician choice is critical in my proposal, but this is not as a sop to those who argue for choice in general—as in “free choice of physician” without any responsibility for those choices. Instead, my design uses choice as a core feature allowing individuals (even different members within a family) to choose the style of practice they want, while bearing the full marginal costs implied by their own choices. The plan makes those cost (and quality) implications real and accessible to individuals without unrealistic assumptions about consumer sovereignty and rationality in medical care choices.

      I don’t mind being attacked from both the left and right— that’s usually an honor. If one wishes to critique the literature for an ideological bias, however, it is best to get one’s facts straight.

      (For an example of a review by someone “not on the Left” who read the book more carefully, see this link.)

    • First comment 24 Jan 2011 by Hal Luft
    • Last comment 16 Feb 2011 by Milo Schield
  7. The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns

    • Constant’s speech flows effortlessly, enumerating the distinctions between ancient and modern conceptions of liberty. Ancient liberty “consisted in exercising collectively, but not directly, several parts of the sovereignty” and “with this collective freedom [came] the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community” (66). Under ancient liberty, “[a]ll private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance” and “[n]o importance was given to individual independence” (66). Modern liberty exists in a system of representative government, rather than direct participation. Modern liberty is “the right to be subjected only to the laws” (66). Constant summaries the key distinction nicely: “[A]mong the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations” (67). “Among the moderns, on the contrary, the individual, independent in his private life, is, even in the freest of states, sovereign only in appearance” (67). A paradox seems to emerge with respect to ancient and modern liberty. While we want modern liberty, it is still necessary to keep ancient liberty in the background. “The danger of modern liberty is that, absorbed in the enjoyment of our private independence, and in the pursuit of our particular interests, we should surrender our right to share in political power too easily” (70). Constant warns against putting too much faith in authority figures. He pleads that “we must not leave it to them. No matter how touching such a tender commitment may be, let us ask the authorities to keep within their limits. Let them confine themselves to being just. We shall assume the responsibility of being happy for ourselves” (70). It seems that the dangers of modern liberty are very real and present today. Individuals often look for the government to be more than just. The government is regulating personal happiness through various policies that go against liberty. It’s a slippery slope and Constant would call for us to take responsibility.

    • First comment 15 Apr 2011 by Ariel Nerbovig
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Stephanie Myla Helmick
  8. Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

    • Clearly, not being able to borrow capital has a tremendous negative direct effect on entrepreneurship, since it will severely constrain the size of new ventures, no matter how many people would like to be entrepreneurs. I wonder if indirectly it could help. Without mortgages, income that would go to payments of principle and home ownership would be saved (partly at least) and be available as capital for profit-making ventures. Has anyone studied this effect?

    • First comment 31 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 03 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  9. Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology

    • Great study, The next step should be finding “WHY”?
      First of all, we know scientists and faculties are likely to be less religious and more atheists, what about atheists’ political leaning, how much of “atheists” explains the D:R distribution.
      Second, majority of the Faculties are “secondary value generation” which means they do not produce goods and services directly, rather, they are supposed to “enable others to create more value”. We also know people working in “secondary value generation” industries (I.e. journalism, acting, etc) are also more politically leaning to the left.
      Third, “narcissistic intelligence”, which means how much people consider their own political believes and their intelligence is superior than others, and what are the typical political learning for people with “higher than normal self-confidence in their own believes”.
      Fourth, “political openness” what is the likelihood of people with D or R political leaning hire peole who are not politically aligned with them.

    • First comment 02 Oct 2016 by John Quiggin
    • Last comment 17 Oct 2017 by Mitchell_Langbert
  10. Preference Falsification in the Economics Profession

    • When I was a cadet in my senior year, we had to take a class with the senior officer in charge of the ROTC department. One of the concepts that I remember him trying to drive home was that we were preparing to enter a “profession”. At the time it struck me that he was grinding some sense of inadequacy, looking for a word that would make his own career more significant in the way some janitors want to be called “sanitary engineers”. However, two elements of his definition of a profession have remained with me (I’m sure there were more). In the colonel’s definition, a career field was a profession if it had a body of knowledge and an ethical code of conduct. Merely having an expert knowledge of a field made you a technician, not a professional. The ethical code of conduct instructed you on how you were to use your expert knowledge, and provided purpose for professional practice.

      In the quote above, Davis is referring to what the important work of the economics profession is, rather than what is important to be successful in the profession in this particular quote, but in an ideal world, the latter should flow from the former. I believe many people come to the social sciences with a desire to make society better (we may not all agree on what “better” means, but that is a separate issue). The dissatisfaction I read, overtly and between the lines, is that the “profession” of economics, in its pursuit of the air of positive science, has lost its ethical code of conduct and has devolved to a technical career field. The statement, “The economics profession is a bad joke. More and more economists are saying less and less to fewer and fewer people. And they conceal their vacuity in abstruse language and mathematical formulae” (p. 364), strikes at the heart of the loss of a professional ethic in the field. What is the ultimate purpose of economics but ultimately to increase society’s understanding of the economy and thereby guide policymakers to make effective policies? This does not necessarily mean that a lay person should be able to pick up an economics journal whose audience is intended to be professional economists and understand it fully any more than a lay person should be able to pick up a copy of the New England Journal of Medicine and expect to fully understand it. Every profession must have an introspective element that works to extend the professional knowledge, and a means of communicating that new professional knowledge.
      Davis paraphrases respondents who say collectively “The bifurcation of the economics profession into researchers, teachers, and policy-makers has gotten worse and the number of individuals who are respected for contributions in all three areas gotten fewer and farther between” (364). I am not sure this is actually a problem – it sounds like a matter of comparative advantage for the individuals involved. We are after all the field that promotes specialization of labor. The real problem seems to be that the economics field has been overwhelmed by its pursuit of the professional body of knowledge, and in particular a very narrow portion of the body of knowledge as defined by the use of mathematical methodology, and has lost its commitment to the ethic of betterment that defines social science practitioners as professionals rather than as mere technicians.

    • First comment 21 Apr 2010 by Jon Goldstein
    • Last comment 22 Apr 2010 by Shawn Reed
  11. A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA

    • A wonderful remembrance! Although not a major in Economics, I had Alchian for Econ 101 (for non-econ majors?) in the mid 1950s, and a year or two later, a grad seminar with Allen (and someone else) on Internat’l Econ Development. Also, had Hildebrand for K. Marx econ. With the help of Prof Allen’s retrospective, I am now inclined to even greater appreciation than at the time—-partly for their inculcation of an economic perspective but mostly for their character.

    • First comment 08 Sep 2010 by morrie goldman
    • Last comment 17 May 2011 by josil
  12. Individualism: True and False

    • Hayek does well to remind people of the true definition of individualism in his opening chapter. Many assume the common meaning of terms and concepts such as “individualism” without evaluating the meaning of the term or concept as it was used in a past age. However, Hayek does not seem to dive deep into the Bible to understand its methods or how they were supposed to work. He assumes that history has proven that biblical methods of economics do not work. He does acknowledge the usefulness of biblical principles, but does not see biblical methods as legitimate. Maybe the reason biblical methods have not worked is because governments and nations refuse to implement certain practices? Hayek does not take time to wonder what would happen if a Year of Jubilee was practiced. Finally, Hayek does not address biblical assumptions about man and how he works either. Men’s hearts are corrupt according to the Bible. Hence, greed and usury is prevalent. Hayek does a wonderful job of defining individualism, but makes too many assumptions about how the Bible should be used in regards to an economic system.

    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Tony Quain
    • Last comment 10 May 2013 by Matt
  13. "The Two Faces of Adam Smith"

    • Echo’s critique is insightful, and touches on Hanley’s recent appraisal of the article. I would like to suggest that while Vernon Smith’s experiments are very interesting, that his jumping off point misses a better way to reconcile Adam Smith’s two works.

      Although Adam Smith does attribute the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange to man as one of his most innate qualities, it is not the most obvious bridge between the two books. As a method of operation in the world, the propensity is important; as an explanation of the origin of our behavior, less so. The Adam Smith of the Theory of Moral Sentiments proposes a picture of man who receives input from the world around him about how he ought to behave. The man wants to be loved and to be loveable out of a concern for his self-interest. Both works address the content of self-interested behavior. The content which makes up self-interest in each book is explained differently, but they both amount to an exploration of self-interest in different frames. Paganelli (2008) even suggests that self-interest is judged with a more friendly result in the Theory of Moral Sentiments than in The Wealth of Nations.

      Self-interest, rather than the propensity to truck and barter, is perhaps the real tie between the two works. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith addresses humanity in the full context of human interactions, while in the Wealth of Nations he addresses that part of society most affected by the virtue of prudence. The method of approach is therefore different, but the starting point for each is not so far apart as is often assumed.

    • First comment 25 Apr 2011 by Echo Keif
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Steve Kunath
  14. Economic Enlightenment Revisited: New Results Again Find Little Relationship Between Education and Economic Enlightenment but Vitiate Prior Evidence of the Left Being Worse

    • I think many of the questions were worded in a way to elicit the wrong response. In a public policy discussion context I think there is an implicit “to a meaningful degree that in any way justifies the cost” modifier to be understood. If you add such a modifier appropriate to each question the answers become understandable. Conversely if you added “to any degree at all” or some such to each question I would guess you would get a different answer. People understand communication in context to make it make sense which results in their adding an impllicit modifier such as I mention.

    • First comment 17 May 2011 by rihir akidan
    • Last comment 28 Apr 2012 by Moshe
  15. The Invisible Hand of Jupiter

    • In The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971), Alexander L. Macfie provides an insight on Adam Smiths conception of the relationship between divine guidance, the system of nature and human behavior. The relationship that Smith conceptualizes as the invisible hand appear thrice in his writing. Macfie tries to explain what lead Smith to the reversal of the meaning while noting that, in fact, there is no inconsistency in Smith. The invisible hand of Jupiter is a capricious, energizing force that metaphorically fits the irregularities people have been observing throughout time. The invisible hand of Christian Deity is the order preserving social force that animates orderly development of societies through social individuals.
      While there is no inconsisteny, Macfie is still not satisfied by Smith’s effort to integrate the theological, jurisprudential, ethical and economic arguments. The invisible hand of Jupiter is the innovative force breaking loose of the status quo, whereas the invisible hand of Christian Deity is the conservative force that gravitates towards natural order disturbed by self interested individuals. The invisible hand of Christian Deity appears both in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and in the Wealth of Nations (1776). Whereas in the Wealth of Nations Smith is concerned with the economic mechanism of the order preserving force that appears in the obvious and simple system of natural liberty which, if perfect, makes itself out in the correspondence of natural and market prices, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith considers the mechanism of distribution of wealth. Smith’s logic is shaky, however, for in the Theory of Moral Sentiments the economic disparity is met by an ethical answer: “In the essentials all the different ranks should be nearly on a level.” While Macfie is aware that Smith distinguishes between benevolence – distributive and esteem justice – and justice – that is commutative justice – and opposes forcing out the levelling of the distribution of essentials, it is not clear whether and how the integration of theological, ethical and economic aspects of Smith’s doctrine bind together and how and whether the invisible hand leads the “rich only [to] select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable […] to make nearly the same distribution […] which would have been made had the earth been divided among equal portions among all its inhabitants (TMS 1759, p. 184).” For Macfie the invisible-hand passage in the Theory of Moral Sentiments remains only an effort, however excellent, to bind the theological ethical and economic arguments into one comprehensive system of thought.

    • First comment 15 Oct 2011 by Pavel Kuchař
    • Last comment 15 Nov 2012 by Francis Conlon
  16. Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

    • Hi, T. My wife’s family moved away from Winnipeg, so I haven’t been back for quite a few years now. I enjoyed your article, which makes an interesting pairing with mine for comparison of where we agree and disagree. You make me feel I should read some of Whately’s work.

      I like the idea that the Invisible Hand is evidence of God’s Providence, similar to the wonders of the human body. It is a natural process, to be sure—- but isn’t it wonderful that we live in a world where the Invisible Hand works? It’s a bit like the physicists’ Fine-Tuned Universe. Your article made me realize that William Paley, of Watchmaker fame, wrote a book about “social science” as well as one about natural science. His Evidences of Christianity ( is about arguments from history and sociology, e.g. why were the early Christians so willing to suffer persecution if the Gospels were falsehoods, and why did Christianity spread so much in the world? Economics can try to address those, just as evolution tries to address the Watchmaker, and, indeed, I’d count Rodney Stark as an honorary economist.
    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 10 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  17. Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data

    • In his 2002 book, Calculated Risks, Gerd Gigerenzer addresses the muddy headed thinking that results from innumeracy and illustrates with telling anecdotes. This (p. 210) is one of my favorites:

      In the late 1970s, the Mexican government faced the problem of how to increase the capacity of the Viaducto, a four-lane motorway. Rather than building a new highway or extending the existing one, the government implemented a clever, inexpensive solution: It had the lines on the four-lane highway repainted to make it six-lanes wide. Increasing the number of lanes from four to six meant a 50 percent increase in capacity. Unfortunately, the much narrower lanes also resulted in an increase in traffic fatalities, which, after a year, forced the government to turn the highway back into a four-lane road. Reducing the number of lanes from six to four mean a 33 percent decrease in capacity. In an effort at touting its progress in improving the country’s infrastructure, the government subtracted the decrease from the increase and reported that its actions had increased the capacity of the road by 17 percent.

      As amusing as it is to chuckle over the transparent flimflammery of the Mexican government, it is considerably more distressing to see one’s fellow economists taken in by the same fallacy. This is precisely what is happening in John Humphreys’ recent publication in Econ Journal Watch, “Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data.” Suppose for the sake of illustration that male college graduates earn $4000 a year in Cambodia, high school graduates earn $2000 a year, and someone entirely uneducated earns $1000 a year. These numbers, it should be clear, are picked for ease of exposition, not for accuracy. Using the usual formula for percentage changes, one would say that university graduates earn 100% more than high school graduates ((400-200)/200 = 1). It would be fallacious to say that college graduates earn 300% ((400-100)/100 =3) more than the uneducated, and high school graduates earn 100% more than the uneducated ((200-100)/100) = 1), so that college graduates earn 200% (300% – 100%) more than high school graduates, yet this is precisely what Mr. Humphrey’s technique does. He computes a percentage premium of college graduates over the base category, and then subtracts a percentage premium of high school graduates over the same base category.

      Gigerenzer, Gerd. (2002). Calculated Risks. New York: Simon & Schuster.

      Humphreys, John (2015). “Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data,” Econ Journal Watch, 12 (3), pp. 339-45.

    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • Last comment 30 Oct 2015 by Ronald Michener
  18. Ideology Über Alles? Economics Bloggers on Uber, Lyft, and Other Transportation Network Companies

    • I am and always have been surprised by the “cartel” view of taxis. No one calls the Maine lobster industry a cartel. Yet surely and appropriately it is. The lobster fishery is a common access resource. So, too, are the streets of a city. Part of the income enjoyed by lobster fishermen is a scarcity rent. So, too, is the price of a taxi and a taxi-cab medallion. Cities for many, obvious political-economy reasons are awful at managing common access to the streets. Nonetheless, the social value of Uber is not to lower the price of a taxi, which should be even higher in some cases, but to offer the consumer a more technologically efficient way of delivering the scare good

    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  19. The Social Science Citation Index: A Black Box—with an Ideological Bias?

    • Hoover Institution publication Policy Review just printed its last issue this month (2/2013). That’s one less conservative SSCI journal cited in the Klein and Chiang article. Will any of the remaining conservative academic journals (such as ANAMNESIS, Academic Questions, First Things or Modern Age) ever obtain SSCI?

    • First comment 01 Nov 2011 by Alex Littlefield
    • Last comment 11 Feb 2013 by Alex Littlefield
  20. Adam Smith and Conservative Economics

    • I’m struck by a sense of deja vu in the treatment of Adam Smith by political philosophers after his death – indeed, it is much the same treatment a consistent modern friend of liberty might expect from orthodox conservatism and progressivism. The right wing of US politics invokes Smith and other classical liberal economists to defend private property and attack the idea of government intervention in the economy on behalf of the poor, but the cannier among them (such as Burke, among the early 18th-century crop of conservatives) know that true friends of individual liberty are no true friends of their favorite projects – wars and mass expenditures in the name of national greatness and tradition.

      As Rothschild’s article documents, Smith considered government interference in markets ‘a combination of the rich to oppress the poor,’ far from Burke’s conception of it as the agent of the deity on Earth. Of course, when Smith refers to ‘the rich,’ he usually seems to have in mind not capitalists involved in production in a free market but aristocrats wealthy from hereditary privilege and merchants wealthy from government-granted privilege. Smith takes the elites to task, though, not for simply having accumulated large amounts of wealth, or benefiting from a naturally unjust system of property, but for their lack of classical virtues. Smith saw the profligate, frivolous, aristocratic elite that used their influence to tip regulation in their favor as not measuring up to the humble masses engaged in honest toil in many virtues (his primary system of virtues in TMS emphasized prudence, temperance, courage, justice, and love). While falling short in most virtues is blameworthy yet not worthy of punishment, violating commutative justice was definitely considered by Smith as worthy of punishment, and he regrets that any aristocrat should be so powerful and wealthy as to be above the law in TMS.

      Smith should not be read as advocating liberty as simply an instrument to prosperity, to be easily abandoned in such cases in which we believe we can achieve greater prosperity with a clever regulation. Not only is liberty an intrinsic good, for those who have it and for their society, but it positively encourages virtue in general as much as it promotes prosperity. This is why we would never see the shade of Smith siding with the French revolutionaries or the radical left, who want to abrogate liberty and commutative justice in pursuit of a new system of property and a society subordinated to the will of the state. Smith may have had great sympathy for the poor, but it didn’t extend to his advocating the expropriation of the wealthy. Indeed, this might explain why Smith became somehow painted as an arch-conservative apologist for the wealthy despite what he actually wrote: while in Smith’s philosophy, some wars are justified, many customary, traditional and religious rules are laudable, and it makes sense to feel some measure of pride in the greatness and good fortunes of one’s country, it is always contrary to all morality and propriety to rob one’s neighbor, no matter his wealth and no matter your need. Smith can rail against utopian schemers with righteous indignation but would never do the same against God, king and country. Sometimes the distinction between a classical liberal and a conservative appears very fine, and even adherents of either philosophy may confuse or conflate the two, hence the conservative advantage in the race to claim Smith.

      It’s sobering to think that the controversy over Smith’s allegiances has been waged without interruption for over two hundred years and counting, now, and in many respects, the arguments have not much changed. Considering the obfuscation and self-censorship Smith had to practice in his writings and the incentives for political groups to claim him as one of their own, I would not be surprised if we all fought over Smith for another two centuries.

    • First comment 07 Oct 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 19 Oct 2010 by Brian Bedient

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